It should come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I am in favour of the monarchy of my adopted home country Great Britain. My husband served in the British Army for 24 years and swore his allegiance to Queen and Country and has always taken this very serious, so I guess it rubbed off on me over the years. In fact, I have always been interested in the monarchy; it must be the German in me, as it seems that the Germans are all secretly (and some not so secret) highly interested in the lives of the Royals, not just the British. No, my mother is to this day still interested in all the European royal households and their comings and goings and will watch any wedding/funeral that the German TV decides to show (the last one being from the Dutch royal household I think). Given that some of the British Kings and Queens came from the House of Hannover (yes, my home town – see the connection?) the Germans I guess still hanker after some of the bygone glory, although, if you were to ask them, they would staunchly deny any such notion! So you see, I never stood a chance really.
Like most people I enjoy seeing and hearing about royal weddings, christening and so on, but as usual that is not enough for me. My love for history, British history especially, means that I tend to dig a bit deeper to find out some lesser known facts. As our teenager is not really interested in my historical ramblings, and my husband has no doubt heard it all before, I thought I would write a few blog posts about it. Some of you may have already read my post about the history of some of London’s more interesting street names (https://storki.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/whats-in-a-street-name/), so I guess that was the unofficial start of my series.
This will be less photography and more words than I usually do, which is basically down to the fact that the only photos of London I posses are fairly old and not good quality (which I hope to remedy this summer on our Europe trip).
The history of the British Royals is varied and in most cases very well documented, making the research a little easier and bringing up some interesting facts.
Did you know, for instance, that for over 300 years the kings of England spoke French as a first language rather than English? The first English King to apparently speak English at court was Henry V (1413 – 1422). However, once the Hanoverian Kings, George I being the first one in that line, came to the throne, that changed to German, and even good old Queen Victoria spoke German in her home and never learnt to speak English fluently.
Most people will have heard of William the Conqueror (1066 – 1087) and believe that the current royal line must have started there, but in fact, the current Queen can trace her line all the way back to Alfred the Great, first King of England, who ruled in AD 871 – 899. Let’s stay with the Norman King for a while. Ever heard of the Doomsday Book? Wondered why it’s called that? Well, William had a survey of England conducted to find out how many people lived in his realm and where they lived. Now, this wasn’t just to count the population, it was actually to find out how much tax people should pay and everything was recorded in a book. Then, as now, this was not a popular subject and paying taxes was considered to be “like the Day of Doom”, and so this book became known as the Doomsday Book. It seems that a lot of the early kings did not like to spent a lot of time in their British kingdom (I should thing the weather might have something to do with this); in William’s case he only visited England four times, spending the majority of his reign in France (where is he also buried).
The Normans were also responsible for building some of my favourite fortresses, including the Tower of London, Dover Castle and Windsor Castle (more of the famous castles in a future post).
After the Normans came the Plantagenets, recently put into the public forefront by the successful TV Series “The White Queen” and the books that this series was based upon. I have always wondered where this French name came from and was surprised to find out that it is partially named after a wild shrub called broom (it has scented yellow flowers), in French it is called genet. Apparently, Geoffrey V of Anjou, father of Henry II, picked a branch of genet and “planted” it in his helmet as he went into battle, so he could be identified by his troops, thus creating the family name Plantagenet.
One of the most famous Plantagenet Kings was Richard the Lionheart (1189 – 1199) (the guy that walks into the wedding of Robin Hood and Maid Marion and the end of the Kevin Costner movie), as well as his infamous younger brother John I (1199 – 1216). John was such a bad king that no other monarch has called himself John. John was also the king that lost the crown jewels as he rushed to cross the Wash (a broad tidal estuary between Norfolk and Lincolnshire). His baggage train was caught in the incoming tide, and together with some servants, the crown jewels were lost to the waters. John was also the king that was made to sign the Magna Carta, although he didn’t sign is per say, he stamped his royal seal onto it, as he could not read or write (which was very common for kings in those times). The Magna Carta is a constitutional historical landmark in British history. The charter defined and limited the power of the king, and was written up by rebelling barons who were sick and tired of paying for John’s expensive and disastrous military campaigns. John was made to sign the charter in 1215 in Runnymede on the River Thames. This document changed the way kings and queens ruled Britain forever.
The Plantagenet’s rule was marred by war, not just the famous War of the Roses, but the Hundred Years War, which actually took longer than hundred years, 116 years to be precise (1337 – 1453). This war was also the first time English troops used cannons, it was at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 in France that this historic event took place. During this time Calais became an English port and remained thus until 1558!
As well as 116 year-long war the Plantagenets are best known for the famous War of the Roses (1455 – 1485). Two cousins, two rival families; the House of York against the House of Lancaster; Edward of York versus Henry VI. Both cousins are descendants of Edward III and therefore claimed the crown and thus began the 30 year-long civil war.
Richard III (1483 – 1485) is another famous Plantagenet King and the last of his line (he of murdering his two little nephews in the tower fame). In recent history, Richard’s remains were famously found in a car park in Leicester and thanks to new technology we now have a model of what Richard looked like.
And so the area of the Plantagenets came to an end and the time of the Tudors came. Much has been written about the Tudors, numerous films and TV series have been made and so not many things remain unknown to the greater public. One item of interest though is the story of the nine-day queen; Lady Jane Grey. In order to stop Mary from taking the throne after Edward the VI, Lady Jane Grey, great-granddaughter of Henry VII, was crowned Queen in 1553. Mary raised an army, marched into London and took the crown from Jane; she had been on the throne a whole nine days. Needless to say that she was later beheaded by Bloody Mary.
According to historical documents, Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) was the first King to call himself “Majesty”; quite apt if one knows how vain and pompous Henry was.
Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) was also known as the Virgin Queen, so-called because she never took a husband (although there were rumours that she did have love affairs – not quite so virgin me thinks). Elizabeth was known for being as beautiful as her mother, Anne Boleyn, and as ruthless as her father, King Henry VIII. Elizabethans were not known for their cleanliness, in fact, perfume was used to mask the inevitable body stench. The Queen however, was considered unusually clean, declaring that she bathed once a month “whether she needed it or not”. Elizabeth was the last of the Tudor line – enter the Stuarts.
James I (1603 – 1625) was the king that had ordered a translation of the Bible into English, hence the King James Bible. Surprisingly he was also a staunch anti-smoking campaigner, writing that it is “a custome loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs”. He wrote a book on the subject, if only people had heeded his warnings then, we might never have know cigarettes in our time.
Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) and her Prince Consort Albert defined the Victorian Age. Albert in particular ensured that progress was supported in Britain, being a supporter of science, technology, the arts and being a driving force behind the Great Exhibition of 1851. Albert was Victoria’s whole life, so much so that after his death in December 1861 she kept laying out his clothes daily and nothing in his rooms got changed. She turned into a recluse, always wearing black. The famous quote “We are not amused” is accredited to her, although there is no record of this.
Ever seen those royal crowns on products you have bought in the UK? They are Royal Warrants handed out to suppliers of goods and services to the royal family since the days of Henry II, but it was Queen Victoria who really raised their profile by handing out around 2,000 of them. It is a great honour for the recipient, who can use the royal coat of arms and the words “…by appointment to…”, to show that they supply members of the royal family. The tradition continues today, with around 800 Royal Warrants in place. A Royal Warrant expires on the death of the person who issued it, and can be cancelled at any time. For instance, Royal Warrants for cigarettes were withdrawn in 1999.
To finish here are some stats on the first, last, youngest, tallest of the royals during their long history:
The longest reigning monarch still is Queen Victoria with 63 years 216 days. Our current Queen has racked up 62 years and in order to beat Queen Vic she has to reign until 10 September 2015.
The shortest reign in contrast was, as noted above, Lady Jane Grey’s with 9 days, followed by the Saxon King Alfward in 924 with 16 days and Edward IV (one of the Princes in the Tower of London fame), who reigned for about 78 days.
The oldest monarch on accession was William IV from the house of Hannover; he was 64 when he became King in 1830.
The youngest monarch to take the crown was Mary, Queen of Scots; she was only 6 days old in 1542, but was only crowned at 9 months of age.
The tallest king was Edward IV at 1.91m (6ft 3in), followed by King Henry VIII at 1.88m (6ft 2in).
The last English King to die on a battlefield was Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, where he reputedly cried “my horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse”. However, the last British King to die in battle was James IV of Scotland in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden, and the last King to lead his troops into battle was King George II in 1743 at the Battle of Dettingen.
The youngest marriage (there were plenty back then) was between the future David II of Scotland and Joan, the daughter of Edward II. They were 4 and 7 respectively.
The most legitimate children were sired by George III, with a total of 15; and the most illegitimate children (as far as one knows of course) came from Henry I at 20-25, Charles II acknowledged 14 and William IV had 10.
Now, with all these kings and queens how on earth do you ever remember them all? Well, there is a great little rhyme to help with that:
Willy, Willy, Harry, Steve,
Henry, Dick, John, Henry three;
Then three Edwards, Richard two,
Henry four, five, six, then who?
Edward four, five, Dick the bad,
Two more Henries, Ned the lad;
Bloody Mary she came next,
Then we have our good Queen Bess.
From Scotland we got James the Vain;
Charlie one, two, James again.
William and Mary, Anna Gloria,
Four Georges, William and Victoria.
Edward, George, the same again,
Now Elizabeth – and the end.
I guess they will have to add lines as time goes by.
And with that short history of British Kings and Queens I hope you have learned something you didn’t know before.
Good Save the Queen!